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DEA Withdraws from Federal Health Meeting on Cannabis Research Amidist Growing Tension

The Drug Enforcement Agency recently announced it was moving forward with reclassifying marijuana from a Schedule I illegal substance to a less dangerous Schedule III controlled substance. The move comes after a reclassification recommendation from the U.S. Health and Human Services Department and pressure from Democratic lawmakers and the Biden Administration.

Although the DEA is forging ahead with rescheduling marijuana, the federal agency recently canceled a scheduled appearance at a conference meant to discuss the state of marijuana science and policy considerations for cannabis researchers. What’s with the sudden absence, and is it a sign of tension between the DEA and other federal agencies and the current administration?

The DEA a No-Show at a Cannabis Event

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health organized the cannabis event. The conference brought together officials from several federal health agencies to discuss vital marijuana science and policy considerations for researchers attempting to navigate the complicated cannabis research process, especially in the fields of cannabinoids and terpenes to treat pain.

Unfortunately, notably absent from the conference was the DEA official who had been scheduled to discuss cannabis policy and regulatory oversight issues at this pivotal moment in history. The deputy director of the NCCIH’s division of extramural research called the DEA’s move to reclassify marijuana the “obvious elephant in the room.” It was the elephant that everyone wanted to discuss, yet no one was there to address the issue.

How will rescheduling marijuana impact the scientific community? No one knew at this point, and no one from the DEA was present to answer the questions that needed answering. Cannabis reform supporters and congressional researchers have been quick to tout the reclassification of marijuana as, at least in a small way, a policy win. However, without insight into how the DEA plans to navigate the regulatory environment, there is no way of knowing if or even how things may change.

David Shurtleff, the deputy director of the NCCIH, maintains a hopeful optimism about marijuana’s reclassification in the scientific community. Yet, he acknowledges, “We just don’t yet know what this regulation will bring in terms of the ability to bring research quicker, better, faster. But again, we’re very hopeful. But nonetheless, regardless of what the scheduling is, NCCIH is still interested in studying the cannabis plant.”

The director of the Office of Science Policy and Communications at the National Institute on Drug Abuse says this is yet another challenge that scientists must navigate as they continue to face roadblocks and restrictions when attempting to obtain marijuana for clinical research due to federal red tape and regulations.

Why the DEA Was MIA

A DEA official was scheduled to participate in the conference. Reports indicate that the officials pulled out of panel participation at the last minute, confusing and frustrating other participants. While no one from the DEA was present to participate or answer questions at the event, someone at the DEA passed along a message to the attendees. In the message, DEA official William Huett says that the agency will “support researchers as they navigate this registration process” to study Schedule I drugs like cannabis, “and outreach is a key component of their model to provide that support.”

In addition to its recent decision to reschedule marijuana, the absence was particularly noteworthy because officials from the National Eye Institute, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institute of Mental Health, National Cancer Institute, National Institute on Aging, and National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, were all on hand looking for information and direction from the federal government.

Some speculate that tensions between the White House and officials at the DEA who resist change to cannabis policy may be at the heart of the recent conference cancellation. Or perhaps the DEA itself is still conflicted over how to address the potential ripple effect rescheduling marijuana may have on the United States and future federal drug policy. After all, this move, while some call it small, is one of the most significant advancements of marijuana policy at the federal level in decades. The truth is that the DEA may not know how this change could impact the scientific community at this point.

It may take more time for the agency to assess the potential benefits and drawbacks of moving marijuana from a Schedule I illegal to a Schedule III substance.

Why this Discussion Is Vital to the Scientific Community?

For ages, the scientific community has struggled to study and understand the complexity of the cannabis plant. As a Schedule I illegal drug, marijuana is classified as a drug with no known or medically accepted medicinal benefits. However, anecdotal accounts and limited scientific studies have shown that chemical compounds in cannabis, like cannabinoids and terpenes, may have valid medicinal and therapeutic benefits for those suffering from chronic pain, epilepsy, depression, insomnia, and other medical conditions.

Barriers like stringent federal regulations and financial limitations have long stifled scientific marijuana research and limited the community’s understanding of cannabis products and their positive and adverse health effects. Many participants at the conference were interested in hearing from the DEA and gaining a new perspective on how reclassifying marijuana could potentially remove the obstacles to studying controlled substances. Unfortunately, now that discussion will have to wait, and the scientific community can only speculate on how rescheduling marijuana may impact current and future research endeavors.

For its part, the NIH established a Resource Center for Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research to help researchers overcome the significant financial barriers to studying cannabis. However, policy limits and federal regulations are also vital issues that still need to be addressed in the wake of the DEA’s decision to move forward with reclassifying marijuana.

Keep up with the latest cannabis news at Cannabutter Digest. We provide up-to-date and insightful news, recipes, and product reviews for cannabis lovers.

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